That Paper… Again?


A philosopher who prefers to remain anonymous writes in with a good question:

How often can one present a paper in progress before one is simply presenting “old work”?

When I get invited to give a talk or present at a workshop, I often will use the same 1 or 2  papers 3-4 times within the space of a year or so. These are usually papers I’m working on and I want to get as much feedback as I can before I send them off for review. But I’ve also talked to philosophers who write a whole new paper (though, related to previous work) every time they are invited to present. This seems to me to require that I write way too many new papers if I’m invited to give a talk or present more than twice in a year, which I am. However, I’ve also gone to talks by philosophers who are still presenting the same paper they presented more than a year ago and been annoyed that they are not presenting something new. Finally, (and this seems clearly to me to be a no-no) I’ve gone to talks where the philosopher in question presents a paper that has already been accepted for publication. How does one strike a good balance?

Readers, what do you do? What are good and bad practices here?

(Andy Warhol, Sunsets)

(Andy Warhol, Sunsets)

guest
22 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
M
M
5 years ago

Relatedly, when one sends a paper to a conference CFP, and a journal accepts it before the conference actually happens, what do you do? Incur in the OP’s no-no?Report

Nick Byrd
Reply to  M
5 years ago

It might depend on whether the journal accepts it before the conference accepts it (or before it was submitted to the conference….or before the conference’s submission deadline). If the conference accepts it before the journal accepts it, then I imagine that the conference organizers would still allow the paper to be in the program – at least, this is what my co-organizers and I have done.

Whatever the case, I appreciate it when authors disclose any new and relevant information about a paper’s publication status (to the conference organizers) before submitting to the conference, after the conference accepts the paper, etc.

Since this seems to come up quite a bit in my brief time organizing conferences, I’d be interested in peoples’ thoughts on this. But maybe on another post (since it might distract from the current post)?Report

Matthew J. Brown
Reply to  Nick Byrd
5 years ago

I think that if the journal accepts it after the conference submission deadline, it is not a problem. Odds are low it will be published before the conference happens. It might not even be in “Online First” mode by then. And even if it is, it is so fresh that many people won’t have read it.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  M
5 years ago

I’m struggling to find a context in which presenting a paper which has been accepted by a journal at a conference would be problematic, regardless of the relative timelines.Report

Laura Cupples
Laura Cupples
5 years ago

I’d love to know the answer to this question. My personal limit for presenting a paper is 3x, though I prefer not to do it more than twice, and I try to do it at conferences with varying audiences. But I still wonder if 3 is too many times.Report

Bruce Brentano
Bruce Brentano
5 years ago

I get around this problem by giving different versions of the same old paper most everywhere I go. The way to get away with doing this is simply (I cannot stress enough how important this is) CHANGE THE TITLE. Then use a powerpoint with some pictures, but change the pictures each time dramatically. Trust me, no one will work out what you’re up to.

Disclosure: I’ve been giving this paper (I am not going to say the name, so as not to blow my cover, because I’m giving it again in May) with the structure of: “A New Counterexample to Professor X’s theory of blah” since 2009. I’ve given the talk 14 times, with varying titles. Each time, my audience thinks it’s a new counterexample! I actually gave this talk twice at the same university (in 2010 and 2012) and I was congratulated at the post-talk drinks for coming up with ‘what seems like a new counterexample each week.”

And if I have to be completely honest with you, I don’t even think the counterexample works.Report

Lori Gallegos
5 years ago

I agree with the questioner that one should aim to strike a balance between spending time on the same set of ideas in order to improve and refine them, on the one hand, and appreciating occasion to present new work, on the other. Developing a paper takes a lot of work, and it seems appropriate that we would spend some time sharing and living off of the fruits of that labor. At the same time, part of the reason why we have conferences and presentations in front of audiences is that there is an expectation that you actually care about the exchange with the audience and might be led to develop your ideas in light of this exchange. The best academic presentations, in my opinion, are those that are polished and written for the audience, but which are also of work that is in progress. I would try to strike the balance when presenting older ideas by, for example, utilizing the presentation to work on a new angle of the old problem, or by spending more time on an objection or upshot not previously considered.Report

Richard Yetter Chappell
5 years ago

Not an answer to the original question, but I would actually prefer it if philosophers were more often invited to present their published work, for reasons outlined here:
http://www.philosophyetc.net/2015/04/must-research-talks-present-work-in.html

(I agree though that one shouldn’t present published papers if the expectation is for works in progress, as it almost always seems to be.)Report

Grad Sockpuppet
Grad Sockpuppet
5 years ago

I present at conferences pretty frequently. I’ll usually have two or three papers going ’round per year (not all of them end up getting revised for publication). I’ll present each one between two and four times, though I’ll never duplicate a presentation for the same association or conference. The following year, if I think a paper in progress is still worth it, I might send it to the conferences I didn’t send it to the previous year. If you attend all the same conferences I do, then you might, over the course of a couple years, see the same paper(s) a couple more times than you’d like. I think my approach is OK, though.

The more exhausting thing (for both you and me) is that time I presented the same paper at sixish very different conferences in the span of a year. At least one other person was at all those conferences, and saw my talk again and again and again and again and again and again. I’m sorry!Report

Julia
Julia
5 years ago

When presenting the same paper multiple times, an important factor seems to be whether the people who are likely attending the talk have already seen it. Sometimes I present at two conferences within a short amount of time where a lot of the same people are attending, in which case I try to give different papers. But giving the same paper a few times to different audiences doesn’t seem like a problem at all. I also don’t think it’s that big a deal to present a paper that was recently published. I’d much rather see that than a talk that’s underdeveloped, or one that fits the conference theme less well than the published paper. When I have published a paper, I am usually not done working on that topic, so the discussion can still be fruitful for my future work, even if the comments don’t make it into that particular paper.
My pet peeve: seeing someone give the same paper twice, where the problems that were obvious the first time (running way over time, for example) are not fixed the second time around.Report

Jonathan Weisberg
Jonathan Weisberg
5 years ago

Suppose 20 people show up to your talk. And suppose each of them devotes two hours: one for the talk, one for the Q&A. That’s 40 hours of other people’s time you’re taking up. You are essentially taking over someone’s entire work-week—even their lunches and coffee breaks!

In almost every case, you are getting way more out of this than they are. In fact, given the norms around talks in academic philosophy, audience members will typically be getting a benefit they could have gotten in just fifteen minutes if they’d waited for the finished article instead (skim, zero in on “the move”, think through the section that addresses your chief point of concern, move on). They are sacrificing their time so that you can write that polished, finished, maximally clear and informative piece. Which, let’s face it, still benefits you a whole lot more than it benefits them.

So be considerate. Just give whatever material will be maximally informative and interesting to your audience. Even if you’re paying your own travel expenses, your audience is paying in a currency far more precious. Don’t waste it.Report

Julia
Julia
5 years ago

What Jonathan said.Report

Matthew J. Brown
5 years ago

Several people have already picked up on key considerations about giving “the same” talk multiple times:
1. It is much less problematic to give the same talk if your audiences won’t really overlap.
2. It is important that you incorporate / respond to the feedback each time you give the talk into future versions of talk (and the eventual publication).
If (2) results in a lot of change, that even mitigates it a bit when (1) doesn’t hold.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

I used to produce new material every conference that I went to. That set me in good stead to eventually have a lot of material that I can use and reuse in different combinations. Now, I will sometimes reuse material, but I don’t think I’ve ever given exactly the same presentation more than once at the conference level (undergrad open days are a different story…). I average between 7 and 15 workshops/conferences per year, which sounds like a HUGE amount if I were writing full papers for each. Instead of reading a completely written paper (or a pared down version), the talks I give are more informal in nature, which is why it’s possible to combine and reuse bits depending on the specific context. So, if you worry about how to balance “giving more than 1-2 talks per year” and “not giving the same talk too often”, don’t organize talks around pre-written papers.Report

Matt Zwolinski
5 years ago

Why not just ask the people who are inviting you what they want?

As Julia and Jonathan point out above, the key factor here is audience. Are you talking to a group of professional philosophers who have already read your previously published stuff, and are looking for something new? Or are you talking mostly to undergraduates who quite possibly there precisely in order to engage with you about your previously published stuff?

But again. Just ask.Report

recent grad
recent grad
5 years ago

Or the related question: how many times can an author publish what is basically the same paper before they’re banned from publishing for at least a few years?Report

Christopher Hitchcock
Christopher Hitchcock
5 years ago

There aren’t (and shouldn’t be) hard and fast rules. There are many variables. 1) Audience. Several people have mentioned this. In addition to the question of whether some of your audience have heard the talk before, you should choose a talk that will be of interest to that particular audience. Also, you need to consider whether it will be a specialized audience, whether they will have relevance technical background, etc. 2) Theme. Is your talk part of a symposium, workshop, or conference on a particular topic? If so, your talk should be on that topic. 3) Length. Some talks can’t be easily shortened or lengthened. 4) Do you have to submit a paper or an abstract? If you need to submit a paper, you need to have a paper. 5) Will the paper your talk is based on be published in conference proceedings? If so, you clearly can’t use a paper that is being published elsewhere. 6) Will the audience include potential employers? If so, it is best to stick to something where you have already dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.

I would say that if you give a talk that is clear, that does not run over the length allotted, that is on a topic of interest to the audience, and that fits the topic of the symposium/workshop, etc., then you should not worry too much about how often you have given the talk before, or about whether the paper has already been accepted for publication.

I gave ten talks in 2015. Here, roughly, is how I would categorize them. (All talks are 45 – 60 min. unless noted otherwise.)

3 talks as an invited visitor at a foreign university. Based on Paper A (presented 3 times before, not yet accepted for publication), Paper B (presented 3 times before, not yet accepted for publication), Paper C (first time presenting, recently accepted for publication).
Conference oriented toward formal philosophy. Talk based on Paper A. Submitted paper.
Small workshop on specialized topic. A big picture talk designed to prompt discussion. Some material drawn from a paper published in 2012.
Talk at a philosophy department. Talk based on Paper A (on a topic several people in the dept. worked on.)
Small workshop on specialized topic. Talk based on Paper B (which is on the topic of the workshop).
Talk at a large cognitive science conference. Part of a symposium on a specialized topic. Short talk (25 min. incl. Q&A). Pulled together material from several published papers that fit the topic of the symposium. Submitted symposium proposal included abstract of the talk.
Large philosophy of science conference. Short talk (30 min. incl. Q & A) based on Paper C. Submitted Abstract.
Small workshop on specialized topic at the intersection of law and philosophy, at a foreign university. Prepared a talk based on material from a class I teach, designed to introduce people from other disciplines to some ideas in philosophy using an American legal case.

In total, 7 talks based on 3 papers. In one case I gave the talk for the 6th time. 3 other talks were prepared ‘ad hoc’ for the specific topic of the symposium or workshop.Report

Doc F Emeritus
Doc F Emeritus
5 years ago

Interesting issue. The thing to remember is that one could be presenting a paper to many different conferences and organizations. I have presented the same paper to a state philosophical association and a national organization in the same year. Let’s say you present to the APA, then to AAPT in the same year…is that OK. For me, yes! Then add the local state phil ass’n and still OK.

Think of it this way, if an author of novels did the same reading at various bookstores and you were there in Chicago, SF, and NY, would that weigh badly on the author? Nope.

You cannot try to tailor a paper presentation to who might be there now and in the past — impossible.Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
5 years ago

Why’s it bad to present papers that are forthcoming for publication? I don’t get it.Report

paolo
paolo
5 years ago

I think people should present an idea/paper as many times as possible before sending it for publication. In fact, given how many genuine ideas philosophers in general have (as opposed to how many papers they are capable of writing on the same topic over and over again), I would suggest Kantian 10 years of presentations before publishing. Obviously, this is completely unworkable these days, but it would make philosophical literature so much better…Report

Chris
Chris
5 years ago

If you’re simply blowing the dust of an old paper and going through the motions then perhaps it is time to clear your desk, find a hobby and stop wasting everyone’s time – your own and your audience’s (not the way I read the OP btw). However, if you are genuinely wrestling with a set of problems or ideas then presumably it will be a different paper every time as you will be incorporating the ideas of the first audience and modifying the paper accordingly for the second, and so on. In which case I think you can present a paper multiple times and unashamedly say as much so long as you are genuinely seeking the audiences input. So I think the answer depends on how sincere you are about progressing with the work via auidence input.Report

SJK
SJK
5 years ago

Echoing some of the sentiments expressed in above comments: I think that, instead of stressing too much about whether you’ve presented the paper before, or whether the paper has been recently accepted for publication, just focus on making the presentation as good as possible. Others have already mentioned making sure the topic fits, and making sure that most of your audience hasn’t already seen the paper.

Presenting really good content is more important than rushing out new content. I’ve heard some papers more than once that were so good, and so content-rich, I was glad to see them the second time. In some cases (for instance, for departmental colloquia rather than for workshop conferences), you should present the very best thing you’ve produced recently, even if the paper has recently been published and even if it means that a couple of people in the audience will be hearing it for the second time.

Also, I recommend putting effort into making sure you give a clear, engaging presentation. Don’t just read out, word-for-word, the current draft of the latest paper you’ve written. For one thing, papers often aren’t written in a way that is easy to understand when read aloud. For another thing, it’s just boring to watch someone standing in one spot, staring down at a sheet of paper rather than interacting with the audience. (I am still working on reducing how much I read from notes.) Think about how to best get the information across, and if needed, practice the talk a couple times before you present. Do what you can to make going to your presentation a nice experience for everyone.Report